Recommended author: Saadat Hasan Manto

For a recent class, I had to read short stories written by Saadat Hasan Manto. Well, only three of them; Toba Tek Singh, The Return and Bitter Fruit. I was hooked. Yes, this writing is a recommendation and a look back on my reading material this week.

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A very telling scene from ‘Toba Tek Singh’

Saadat Hasan Manto is awesome! If for anything, read his work for the thoughts it can inspire within you. And if you decide reading an entire book is too much for your taste, just read one story, Toba Tek Singh. Saadat Hasan Manto writes short stories (or afsana, to use the original Urdu name for the genre). Now I should explain the reference to Urdu. Sadat Hasan Manto was a writer born in the Punjab region in the British Raj Empire. In 1947, when England finally relinquished their hold on their South Asian colonies, they created a state in the northwestern region.

This state would be named Pakistan, and what was formally Punjab was suddenly cut in the middle, one half in India and one half in Pakistan. This Partition figured greatly in the stories of Manto, and understanding this is very important to get the meaning and crisis in his work.

Toba Tek Singh tells a story of how this Partition news affected people in an asylum in Lahore. Lahore was a place in  India, that overnight found itself as a part of Pakistan.  As some of the lunatics were going to be exchanged, the question of where Pakistan is ensues, and the sense of displacement settles in. How can we be displaced, when we haven’t gone anywhere? As experienced by the tenants of this asylum, they were in the same place, but the earth moved beneath them.

Enough rants from me. Just read Saadat Hasan Manto’s work, and if that is too much, just read Toba Tek Singh.

Exploring Dusseldorf

Awesome Dusseldorf

Awesome Dusseldorf

Okay, so perhaps saying that I had a chance to literally ‘explore’ Dusseldorf is somewhat of an overstatement. I went to Dusseldorf on a whim, without a plan or any preparation. As a result, I depended on my fellow explorer to guide me throughout the city.

As my previous posts perhaps indicated, I am a fan of old, old cities (and yes, I did went to Paris but lost all of my photos because of a certain errr…accident). Dusseldorf has not been on my list because I did not think that there is a lot to see. Well, historically speaking, I did not see a lot — although my lack research may be the reason for that. I went to Dusseldorf because I could not pass a chance to travel and because I knew that Dusseldorf has awesome Japanese food.

Dusseldorf is pretty though, most of the city ran along the Rhine river. And I had a chance to eat Teriyaki Udon! That was worth a 3-hour trip from The Hague!

Things we lost in translation: George Asakura’s love letters

Yes, I read mangas. I’d say this is my biggest guilty pleasure. As I have said elsewhere, I read mangas when I want to read simply for my enjoyment. Reading mangas gives my reprieve, which is why I hold on to this guilty pleasure stubbornly.

I read the work from George Asakura (and this work particularly) when I was a senior in high school. And yes, it is the love letters that drew my interest. It might sound cheesy, but I will not even try to defend my interest. It’s mine and mine alone.

Reading this manga was worth it for me because of one particular letter in the first story ‘Love Letters in the LIbrary’ I’m not going to explain the story, it is the letter in the story that struck my attention:

You are like snow
you make me white and cold
then you make me freeze
you are snow.

I still want to be close to you,
I’m an idiot.

Yes, that is the English translation of the letter. I have no idea how the original version sounds, but that translation was not the version of the letter that has been stuck in my brains for years. I first read the Indonesian version of the letter:

“Kau adalah salju.
Kau adalah salju yang menyejukkan dan membuatku
beku.
Dan aku merasa sangat bodoh karena begitu ingin dekat
denganmu.”

Everyone speaking Indonesia would tell you that it is poetic. It was interesting for me to challenge myself whether I can translate it with a more poetic nuance. Here’s my effort:

“You are snow.
You are the snow that cools and freezes me.
And I feel like an idiot for desperately wanting to be close to you.”

Is that poetic?

 

Friends Forever: Gray

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Gray,
I wish I have any idea on how and why we are still here discussing this. I thought this topic has lost its relevance. Apparently, it hasn’t. Perhaps because I still sense awkwardness in all of our correspondence. Am I reading too much into things? 

Now as I’m sitting here, typing these words, I just want to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for changing you from a best friend into an ex-boyfriend. I look back and wish I can kick myself. If I just let it be, we would probably conversing today without doubts, unfinished business, words barred.

But at that time, loving you was ruining me so thoroughly that saying it promised a relief. It didn’t, instead all of it spread within me, making all the risks and all the changes worth it. It wasn’t, instead I dragged you into my mess and ruined all we had forever.

Or at least until now. I consider you very dearly, and the fact that I cannot send you this letter perhaps speaks to this lingering awkwardness. But I am sorry, and this is an effort to go back to the time where I can speak to you without using niceties.

I’m sorry, my impulses threw us into a suspended state that took too much time and energy. And ended up not being worth it. Nor did it have closure. I wish I have your patience, then all the need to consult you on this would not be an issue. You can have regrets alone, but this awkwardness is ours to share. I take all the responsibilities. All the fault is mine.

Warm regards,

Susan

Surprisingly, I learned something from Singelloop!

I realize that the title bears a lot of explaining. So let me begin from the most questionable part of the title, Singelloop. To strip it to its basic point, Singelloop is a community running (race?) event in Leiden. It is celebrated annually, and this year it took place on April 11, 2014. The route of Singelloop basically surrounds the city canal/ boulevard, the length of which is aroung 6-7 kms. It’s a charity event (as far as I heard) and it is organized by Leidsch Dagblad, a local newspaper. I suppose that would suffice as basic information.

My friends and I, all the students in my class were registered for this event. It was at first impression, daunting. People I met in the Netherlands so far seems like they are mostly fit and physically active somehow, but I know I’m not. But also, it begins at 7 pm, which is nice for a shy person like me, until you realize that it is in spring, and it doesn’t get dark until 9 pm, so there’s no protection in anonymity.

As the day approaches, I started dreading the event. I have a tendency to back out from events, especially if they involve a big number of people that I don’t know. And to be completely honest, some of my friends did cancel their participation. It took everything in me to not back out of the event. I have never jogged so far. I have never ran in daylight. And I have never become a spectacle on something I’m really bad at.

It was daunting indeed. A friend, in trying to explain the festivity, told me, ‘It’s fun! Half of Leiden participates in the event and the other half participates!’ Well intended, but that made me even more nervous. Until I heard that kids participate in the event, that entire families would just participate and run. Until I heard that people watching will be there to give you support, no matter who you are.

One of the best part before I started running was knowing that these people are not just there to watch, but also there to support me in my effort. I never thought I needed support, I thought what I needed was only training. As it turns out, that support actually mattered.

The support mattered because it gave me energy to continue and decreases all my fear of embarrassing myself. I managed to finish, but that is not why I wanted to write this post.

I wanted to write this post because Singelloop proved me wrong. I was always informed that Westerners are individualistic and not interested in other people. Leiden has proven to be a completely opposite experience for me so far, and it becomes obvious in Singelloop. Through Singelloop, I got an experience of community, albeit a very different one. But having unfamiliar people screaming ‘Go!’, ‘You can do this!’, ‘Keep running!’ from the sidelines of the route was heartwarming, was energizing, and gave me a sense of being in a community. And that was more than enough to keep me running for 6 kms.

Me and my fellow students-cum-Singelloop runners

Me and my fellow students-cum-Singelloop runners

NB: want to know more about the Leiden Singelloop? Click here Disclaimer though, it’s in Dutch.

Exploring Berlin

On the 15th-17th of March, on a whim to make time to have fun, I went to Berlin with two friends. Berlin was not on the list of places I was really eager to visit (Hallo, Rome and Prague!), but I am very happy to say that it was far better than I expected. There is a perfect word in Dutch for this, het viel mee. Indeed, Berlin did viel mee. 

It was not that I expected a lot of Berlin. I was only excited to visit one place, Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam. It is a palace whose building was began by Friedrich Wilhelm I in the 18th century, and was mentioned as a majestic showoff of the glory of Prussia. After visiting that place (and assaulting my legs in the 2 km walk from the Neues Palace to the Sanssouci Palace), as far as I know I would be good. Sanssouci was worth the assault to my legs.

Berlin also was. But that is perhaps because we began our exploration by following a tour which happened to be guided by a history buff. THAT, I am pretty sure, helped to put everything in context. Because I think Berlin is only truly appreciable (I hope that is a word) when you understand the context. And yes, there is more to Berlin history than the Nazi regime and the Berlin Wall in the 20th century.

Notably among all the pictures would be the photo of people gathering in a parking lot.  That is not just some parking lot, 10 feet below that used to be Hitler’s bunker, where he famously committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun. Without that guided tour (thank you Sadie from New Europe Tours Berlin), we would not have been aware of that, because there’s absolutely nothing that stands out from the parking space except for a plaque 10 meters away.

So, do visit Berlin. Auf widersehen!

You

Sometimes i think the biggest gap between the two of us is the fact that you keep on looking at her. even when we are conversing seriously I could see your focus dwindling into nothing when she as much as passes by. It could be the Gulf War, the rise of fundamentalism, abortion, the faulty nature of nationalism — it could’ve been the secret to living forever, when she enters your head the discussion ends. I wonder how much of your longing for her is hindering the progress of the theory you say you’re formulating in your head. Does she also stop your train of thoughts when you are analyzing the politics in Latin America?

Sometimes I wish you do not love her with the intensity you do. Perhaps then you have a chance to become an international political reporter. Or at least a decent article writer for your own blog. but love has a way of destroying people even when (or perhaps, because) it is not returned. When you love someone so deep for so long, does it wear off at any point when there seems to be no sense in holding on?

But that’s the thing. Everything she does gives you sense in holding on. A smile, a glance, a chance encounter that makes a scientific discussion impossible for the whole day. To the logical me, it seems foolish, but who am I to blame you when I’m guilty for the same thing. And the better person in me is wondering whether I want you to give up only for my selfish reason.

You see, the thing is, in my head you have me. Me, the one who is even more of an idiot, because it is in your passion in loving her that I found my love for you. And in every possibility of you finally moving on, I find the sense in holding on.

Now that I think about it, the biggest gap between you and me is perhaps the fact that I look at you with the same intensity you look at her. It is destroying me so thoroughly that I’m wondering why are you still whole.

In memory of Muridan Widjojo

Muridan Widjojo

This photo does not belong to me, it was taken from Muridan’s personal page

I kept on doubting whether I should write this post at all. It seemed unimportant. What I thought and felt seemed unimportant. So I decided to just write this one, without making drafts or outlines or everything. And no, this is not a flash fiction. It’s a ramble, written just to make sure that I can get this out of my head and look back at this entire ordeal and see closure. Closure just in knowing that all that I have at this moment, I’ve put it here in this post.

Mr. Muridan Widjojo, I heard that you passed away. I don’t know what time, where or why precisely. And in that simple line lies the fact that I don’t know you that well at all. I’ve only met you once, and I don’t think we talked that much. But it was an impressive moment. A moment I wanted to capture, a moment that I hope I will always carry with me when I continue my live and hopefully my work.

At the bottom of it, I know I’m just a fan, I’m an admirer of your work, and I wish to continue it. I had doubts because I was perfectly aware that I don’t know you that well, if any. But now that I’m researching and reading your work, in reading it I feel like I got to know you better. In the process of reading your works, you became a mentor to me. You perhaps did not know that, and now you never will. I always thought that we would meet again and at that time, I will be more at the level where I can say that you inspired me. So with your passing I’m mourning the mentor that never was, and never will be. With all those selfish sentiments aside, I hope you understand that I meant what I said the first time we met: ‘It’s an honour to meet you.’

Rest in peace Bapak Muridan Widjojo, we’ll carry on.

NB: Muridan Widjojo worked as a researcher on Eastern Indonesia in LIPI (Indonesian Institute of Science). The goal of his work was to facilitate peaceful dialogue in the solving the problem in Papua. Bapak is the way to say ‘Mr.’ in Indonesian language.